The second largest fire in Washington state in summer 2016, a season of seemingly ceaseless burns across the western United States, ravaged the Spokane Indian Reservation. Neighboring Tribal fire crews helped the Spokane Tribe of Indians combat the blaze that straddled the dangerously low Spokane River, burning 18,000 acres. Flames engulfed power lines, cutting off electricity to administration buildings, leaving firefighters without access to well water to suppress the fire. The damage cost 14 Tribes homes, and nearly 50 people were displaced.
But the devastating incident has inspired a new vision for sustainable energy independence.
On May 16, the Spokane Tribe of Indians brought together Tribal leaders and project partners to celebrate the Children of the Sun Solar Initiative (COSSI).
“This project is born of fire. The 2016 Cayuse Mountain Fire stimulated us to look at going solar because of the impact it had on the reservation,” said Tim Horan, Executive Director of the Spokane Tribal Housing Authority. “The Children of the Sun Solar Initiatives puts us on a path to energy independence, climate resiliency, and tribal power sovereignty — eventually we could be self-sufficient.”
Tribal leaders and project planners have come together to create COSSI, investing in 650 kilowatts of solar capacity, and eventually, battery storage. The renewable energy source will save the Tribe $2.8 million over 35 years, in addition to forging new economic opportunity and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
During the day’s events, project partners, including the U.S. Department of Energy, GRID Alternatives, the Wells Fargo Foundation, SunVest, and the HUD NW Office of Native American Programs, are joining together for a solar celebration and tour of the solar facilities, followed by a policy discussion. COSSI was awarded funding from the U.S Department of Energy and, in 2018, was the first project selected for funding from the Tribal Solar Accelerator Fund (TSAF), a tribal-led initiative launched with seed funding from the Wells Fargo Foundation that seeks to catalyze the growth of solar energy and expand solar job opportunities in tribal communities.
“Wells Fargo is pleased and honored to be part of this exciting project,” said Ramsay Huntley, Clean Technology and Innovation Philanthropy Program Officer at Wells Fargo. “Supporting projects like the Children of the Sun Solar Initiative is directly in line with our goals to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy, minimize the impacts of climate change on our customers and communities, and address unique social, economic and environmental needs in Indian Country.”
Installation of 650 kW of solar is underway for 23 homes and nine Tribal community buildings, including the Tribal Administrative Building, Spokane Tribe Senior Center and senior housing, and the Spokane Tribal Fish Hatchery. GRID Alternatives is providing hands-on solar installation training for Tribal employees and community members throughout construction.
“The Children of the Sun Solar Initiative was the first project selected for TSAF funds and we’re excited to see it come to life,” said Tanksi Clairmont, Director of the Tribal Solar Accelerator Fund. “Through this new solar project, the Spokane Tribe of Indians is building energy security and resilience while providing solar education and workforce training.”